SC set aside millions for small and minority-owned businesses. Here’s where it went

The State
January 24, 2021

By Joseph Bustos


In 2020 Tangie Beaty, the CEO of a minority-owned theater and film production company, couldn’t put on three planned plays and missed out on $14,000 to $20,000 in net profit for each production.

To help make up for some of that loss, WOW Productions, which has one full-time employee and relies on contractors and volunteers, received a $9,710 grant from the state. It doesn’t cover the money lost, but it helps.

“While I’m thankful for (the) $9,000 I received, it doesn’t necessarily scratch the surface,” Beaty said. “It definitely points us in the right direction. I appreciate every dollar.”

WOW productions was one of nearly 2,300 small businesses to receive COVID-19 assistance grants through the state. Last month the state’s Department of Administration finalized the $40 million in grants, which were funded with federal COVID-19 relief money.

The grants ranged from $2,500 to $25,000.

When the state Legislature created the program last fall, it gave preference to minority-owned businesses, small businesses and businesses that had not received previous COVID-19 assistance. Minority-owned businesses were less likely to have had received previous COVID assistance, such as federal aid from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was aimed at keeping companies open and running.

The program appears to have hit its mark.

While a little more than a third of the applicants were minority owned businesses, nearly half of those businesses who received assistance were minority-owned.

Minority-owned businesses also received 46% of the grant money awarded while having applied for just 32% of the money requested.

“The General Assembly realized the problem that minority-owned businesses were suffering the most and got the least federal help,” said Frank Knapp, the president and CEO of the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “It looks like it is moving in the right direction to addressing the problem.”

Counties in the Midlands saw among the highest amounts of grant dollars in the program. Richland County applicants received the second highest amount of grant money in the state with businesses receiving $5.6 million. Lexington County businesses received $1.8 million, placing it seventh highest in the state.

Out of the 329 Richland County businesses that received funding, 68% of them are minority owned. Of the 99 Lexington County businesses to receive the assistance, 40% are minority-owned.

Almost all of the money went to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, according to data provided by the Department of Administration.

One of those businesses was Villa Tronco, a restaurant in downtown Columbia.

Villa Tronco, which was closed from March until July, had 25 employees before the economic slowdown. After reopening, the restaurant only brought back eight employees, is only offering dinner service, and only uses half of its allowable occupancy as a precaution.

“I can’t bring anybody back because we don’t have any room, we’re not doing enough business to bring on the lunch, but I was able to keep my key people but people that have been here the longest,” said co-owner Carmella Roche said.

Villa Tronco also received a $96,000 PPP grant as well as $6,000 in assistance from the City of Columbia, and used the money to help make payroll and pay utility bills.

Roche and her husband, Joe Roche, also didn’t take a salary for about three to four months.

“We are so thankful and so grateful,” Carmella Roche said about the grant money the restaurant received. “This is the boost that’s going to help us make it through this.”

The DOA also wanted to give preference to businesses who had not received any previous COVID relief assistance. Those types of businesses made up 32% of applicants, but made up 37% of grant recipients.

Businesses had to provide documentation showing they had a drop in revenue between March and November of 2020 as compared to the same time period in 2019. They could also receive reimbursement for money spent on personal protective equipment, staffing, rent or mortgage payments, or other business operating costs.

SC Small business COVID Relief Grants by county

The General Assembly authorized using $40 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to create a small business grant program. Here’s how much money was sent to each county.

(Click here to see table)

McMaster proposes more relief

In total, the $40 million worth of grants to nearly 2,300 small businesses, and $25 million of grants to about 700 nonprofits wasn’t enough money to meet the needs of all businesses that applied for support.

More than 9,600 small and minority-owned businesses applied for $213 million worth of federal funding, and nearly 1,600 nonprofits requested nearly $76 million worth of assistance.

Gov. Henry McMaster wants to continue the COVID-19 relief grants for small businesses in next year’s state spending plan and has proposed setting aside $123 million in one-time state dollars for relief grants to be awarded by the Department of Commerce.

“We know there’s still a great need out there — the governor recognizes that and recognizes the importance of making sure these businesses, who through no fault of their own are hurting because of the pandemic,” said McMaster spokesperson Brian Symmes. “The governor continues to believe its critically important to get those businesses the help that they need.”

To qualify for the proposed program, businesses would have to be located in South Carolina, employ 25 or fewer employees, and show a direct financial impact because of COVID-19. Businesses that started operating after Sept. 13, 2019, would not be eligible.

For businesses to qualify, they also could not owe any taxes to the state. During the rollout of the first program, some grantees owed back taxes and the money owed deducted from their grant amount, Symmes said.

Preference also would go to businesses that have not received previous COVID-19 assistance, but excluded from the governor’s proposal is any preference for minority-owned businesses.

“We believe the second round of funding needs to be distributed to each and every small business in South Carolina that demonstrates the need for it,” Symmes said. “The governor has proposed a much larger pot of money than the original one as well.”

One legislator said the state should do more to promote a future program to make sure even more eligible businesses are aware and know how to apply, contending more small businesses in the state needed help than the 9,600 that applied.

“I think we need to do more for small businesses and minority-owned businesses than we’ve done, so I agree with the governor on that,” said state Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland. “But I think we also need to make sure we’re properly disseminating this information to those that are in need and would qualify so they know they’re eligible.”

Any assistance for her business is helpful, Beaty said.

WOW Productions, which did not receive PPP money, plans to use the money to put on programming, such as acting classes, to generate income to help go towards a new location.

Beaty said the production company had to shut down in-person acting classes, and transitioned to doing one-on-one acting classes on Zoom.

“The grant gives us a little bit of relief to be able to do some new things,” Beaty said.

Small business grantees by the numbers:

Minority vs. non-minority owned applicants

Minority owned: 3,549 applicants/37% of applicants

Non-minority owned: 6,078 applicants/63% of applicants

Grant recipients

Minority Owned: 1,117 recipients/ 49% of recipients

Non-minority owned: 1,167 recipients/ 51% of recipients

Applicants with other COVID-19 aid

No other assistance: 3,156 applicants/ 33% of applicants

Received other assistance: 6,471 applicants/ 67% of applicants

Grant recipients with other aid

No other assistance: 854 recipients/ 37% of recipients

Received other assistance: 1,430 recipients/ 63% of recipients

Five counties receiving most money:

▪ Charleston County: $6.4 million

▪ Richland County: $5.6 million

▪ Horry County: $3.8 million

▪ Greenville County: $3.2 million

▪ Beaufort County: $2.1 million

Five counties receiving the least money:

▪ Allendale County: $7,306

▪ Bamberg County: $34,910

▪ Fairfield County: $59,954

▪ Calhoun County: $67,356

▪ Union County: $69,299

Six counties with the highest percentage of minority-owned businesses receiving grants:

▪ Allendale County: 100%

▪ Bamberg County: 100%

▪ Fairfield County: 100%

▪ Lee County: 100%

▪ Marlboro County: 100%

▪ McCormick County: 100%

Six counties with the lowest percentage of minority-owned businesses receiving grants:

▪ Pickens County: 15%

▪ Horry County: 20%

▪ Oconee County: 25%

▪ Kershaw County: 27%

▪ Clarendon County: 33%

▪ Dillion County: 33%

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